What We’re Reading, Vol. 5
A new year always brings hope of complete and wonderful rebirth, and it is a well known tradition to start the following months as you mean to go ahead. Of course this includes our reads, as we hope the topics and titles we choose on that first perfect day will reflect or even predict our futures. Are we traveling the world? Hosting parties? Living our best, fullest life? Only time will tell, but a new read is certainly a great place to start.
Here’s what we’re reading this January...
Winter has finally set in for us here in the South, but that still means a balmy 50ish degrees as compared to the snowy delights of the rest of the eastern seaboard. To keep a festive mood I started my year finally reading the party novel of 2018, Social Creature, and found it just as mystifying and frankly, insane, as Rachel warned me it would be. But January is also the month of that original aesthetic party queen of ours, Edith Wharton, and who am I to go a January without reading something of hers? It’d be like celebrating my own birthday without cake. I usually stick to a short story, because (and this is the part where Olivia flies across the Atlantic to wring my neck) I’ve yet to pick up any of her complete novels. (@ Olivia don’t disown me pls 🙏🏻✨) The Muse’s Tragedy was my first Wharton story many years ago and holds a place near and dear to my heart still but I’m finally putting on my big girl velvet and diving into a vintage copy of The Glimpses of The Moon I found around this time last year. My apologies to the queen, I know I have been foolish, and nothing proves it better than this delicious “comedy of Eros.”
I’m tearing up reading Raquel’s bit because yes, truly, January is Edith Wharton month in my book, and that’s more so the case than ever before as I’m finally submitting my thesis on The House of Mirth next week. Consequently, I kind of want to just sit down in front of my stack of Edith Wharton books, hug them, and cry as I refuse to let go but still recommend my favorites to others (@ Raquel, you should definitely be starting with Glimpses of the Moon, knowing you). I’ve consequently been a bit paralyzed when it comes to reading this month as the thought of being done with Wharton on the academic scale is torturous to me, but the past month has still brought me some good reads. I was entranced by Anne Therese Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, a novel on Alva Vanderbilt. It didn’t live up to her earlier novel on Zelda Fitzgerald as a book, but it definitely did in terms of content. I’m now very excited to read more non-fiction on the Gilded Age for fun (a wild concept!), and already have my hands on Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters on the wave of transatlantic marriages from the period. Otherwise, I’ve been immersed in more Wharton – selective passages of The House of Mirth, of course, but also New Year’s Day – a novella from Old New York – and “The Fulness of Life,” a very early short story.
This year, continuing on from last year, my focus is on the stories of women. Where better to start than the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I of England — two women who were used as political pawns, whose bodies were often out of their control, and whose destinies were intertwined because they dared to defy the status quo as queens. I’m diving headfirst into The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams. The new film about Mary Queen of Scots is in theatres this Friday in Ireland and I can’t wait to see it — Elizabeth I is my favourite historical figure, but I admittedly know very little about her cousin Mary outside of the context of Elizabeth’s life and reign. I’m hoping this book will shed new light on Mary’s life, legacy, and her rivalry with Elizabeth in a time when women rulers constantly had to protect their thrones from the claws of men who believed they could do the job better.
Just yesterday, I realised I had not read a book in my native language in years. I picked up Roberto Calasso’s I Geroglifici di Sir Thomas Browne because I am familiar with the author, having loved his La Folie Baudelaire and Il Rosa Tiepolo. Getting back to Italian prose has been quite the challenge – compared to English, it is much more elaborate, with sentences that can go on for dozens of lines and include a great abundance of adjectives. The subject of I Geroglifici… is another prose known for being Latinate and complex, that of writer and scholar Sir Thomas Browne. A polymath and scholar not only of religion but of all that was esoteric, he was also remembered for the variety of forms his writing took, garnering his place as ‘the’ 17th century scholar. I knew almost nothing of Sir Thomas Browne, to be honest, but as fan of Calasso, my curiosity was piqued and I appreciate learning something new. Academic subject aside, I am enjoying how poetic Calasso’s writing is, how much pleasure there is in it. Calasso writes sensuously, in a secretive way that asks to be deciphered, that asks for commitment to his work, but that in the end is also rewarding.
As the new semester fires up to a start, I’ve been trying to savour my last slivers of free time by doing some light, leisurely reading, and Faber Books’ slim volumes of short stories have been ideal for that. Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore Sally Rooney, so her Mr Salary was the first of the series that I picked up. Next was Sylvia Plath’s Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, which has been similarly long-awaited — by me, at least — since the publishing house announced that the previously-unpublished work was finally going to see the light of day. I am very pleased, dear reader, to tell you that the story was definitely worth all the hype.
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